Far from ephemeral consumer trends, buying green and avoiding sweatshop-made clothing represent the most recent points on a centuries-long continuum of American consumer activism. A sweeping and definitive history of this political tradition, Buying Power traces its lineage back to our nation’s founding, revealing that Americans used purchasing power to support causes and punish enemies long before the word boycott even entered our lexicon.
Taking the Boston Tea Party as his starting point, Lawrence Glickman argues that the rejection of British imports by revolutionary patriots inaugurated a continuous series of consumer boycotts, campaigns for safe and ethical consumption, and efforts to make goods more broadly accessible. He explores abolitionist-led efforts to eschew slave-made goods, African American consumer campaigns against Jim Crow, a 1930s refusal of silk from fascist Japan, a range of contemporary boycotts, and emerging movements like fair trade and slow food. Uncovering previously unknown episodes and analyzing famous events from a fresh perspective, Glickman emphasizes both change and continuity in the long tradition of consumer activism. In the process, he illuminates moments when its multifaceted trajectory intersected with fights for political and civil rights. He also sheds new light on activists’ relationship with the consumer movement, which gave rise to lobbies like the National Consumers League and Consumers Union as well as ill-fated legislation to create a federal Consumer Protection Agency.
A powerful corrective to the notion that a consumer society degrades and diminishes its citizenry, Buying Power provides a new lens through which to view the history of the United States.